Homelessness increased 5 percent in Austin over last year, according to the results of Ending Community Homelessness Coalition's annual census.
The survey, which was conducted overnight on Jan. 26 by about 500 volunteers, found 2,255 people experiencing homelessness on Austin streets and in shelters, compared to 2,147 people last year.
"The numbers are not moving in the direction we want," District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo said at City Hall this morning. "They are increased, and that's of significant concern to all of us here today."
Tovo was joined by Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Council Member Greg Casar and members of nonprofit service providers for those experiencing homelessness. She said the increase speaks to the challenge of ending homelessness in Austin, but she also highlighted recent city efforts to combat homelessness as a sign of improvement, including the recent, housing-focused restructuring of the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless' contract and the decrease in youth and veteran homelessness over the past year.
Susan McDowell, CEO of LifeWorks, said Austin saw a 25 percent decrease in youth homelessness overall and a 56 percent decrease in homeless youth who were unsheltered. That drop, McDowell said, was a step toward an effort that started in 2016 to end youth homelessness by 2020.
"What these numbers are telling us is that what we are doing, the system we are building, is working. We have a lot of challenges in front of us, a lot of work and a lot of scaling to do," McDowell said. "But this is telling us that, working together, we can be successful, and it has bolstered our confidence and our own tenacity that we will make youth homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring by 2020."
Jo Kathryn Quinn, CEO of Caritas, said, while there are myriad reasons for homelessness in general, in Austin, much of it is rooted in the rising cost of housing and the lack of affordable housing.
"I know just from watching the growth pattern in Austin – and the fact that middle-class people are having a hard time affording their living in Austin – you can imagine that people experiencing poverty are under even more pressure," she said.
Overall, there were 108 more people experiencing homelessness this year, which ECHO Executive Director Ann Howard said was "pretty little," compared to the breadth of Travis County. Howard said the largest increases were in the downtown area, where homeless encampments have increased under I-35 over the last year. Howard said the visibility of those populations have led to an outsized view of the homeless population in Austin.
"The visibility ... it makes us really want to do something about it," she said.
The Austin City Council listed reducing homelessness in Austin as one of its priorities at the start of 2019.
Last November, Austin passed a $250 million affordable housing bond, and Mayor Adler said the city is deciding how much of that money will go toward increasing housing for low-income residents and permanent supportive housing for homeless Austinites. Adler also said Council could dedicate more of its overall budget to combatting homelessness.
Nadia Hamdan contributed to this report.